4 Feb 2000 : Column 1335

House of Commons

Friday 4 February 2000

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


Northern Ireland

Mr. Secretary Mandelson, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Reid and Mr. Secretary Murphy, presented a Bill to make provision for the suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland and the exercise of certain functions conferred by or under Part V of the Northern Ireland Act 1998; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 7 February, and to be printed [Bill 61].

Orders of the Day

Carers and Disabled Children Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.34 am

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde): I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.

Although I am in my 30th year in the House, I have never before had the good fortune to win a high place in the private Members' ballot. It is not until one does so that one realises how many friends one has. In my case, most of them vanished almost overnight when I decided to introduce this measure--although not, happily, the right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber today, who are, I am sure, as passionate as I am about the need to assist carers. That is not to say that other right hon. and hon. Members do not care, but their main concern when befriending me was clearly to steer me in another direction, which was their first choice.

The mountain of mail that one has to cope with from individuals and organisations is enormous. Perhaps the most ironic experience was having to deal with almost half a rain forest from those who wished me to introduce the Newspaper and Magazine Recycling Bill. That is a very worthy measure, however, and I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Dr. Naysmith) every success in getting it through.

I am also grateful for the cross-party support I have received in launching the Bill. This is truly an all-party measure and if, as I hope, it gets on to the statute book, it will reflect a great deal of credit on the House. I give particular thanks to the sponsors who span the political divide. In addition to the usual stalwarts with an interest in this area, including my hon. Friends the Members for

4 Feb 2000 : Column 1336

Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Mrs. Heal), for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Quinn), I also have support from three former Conservative Ministers--the right hon. Members for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) and for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), both former Secretaries of State for Health, and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe). I also have the support of the Liberal Democrats in the form of the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard). I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), a great champion of carers, in his place--and, indeed, right hon. and hon. Members of all parties

I am particularly delighted that the Government have lent their support to the Bill. With that kind of support, and a fair wind, we might be able to celebrate a stunning victory for carers. It will, in my view, be a victory not only for carers but for parliamentary democracy, for the Bill is about freedom, choice and flexibility. It will give carers the help and support that they need to enable them to continue caring.

I chose the Carers and Disabled Children Bill because I, like most Members, have recognised over the years that the carers in our society should be given more choice and flexibility to allow them to carry out their caring role. I decided to see whether I could build on the provisions of the measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment--the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995. I pay tribute to him for his dedication to carers in getting such an important measure on to the statute book. However, my Bill goes beyond the 1995 Act, in so far as it will help all kinds of informal carers--husbands and wives caring for their spouses, parents caring for their ill or disabled children, and adults caring for elderly patients, to name just a few. It will do that by allowing local authority social services departments to assess their need for support and help them in their caring role by giving them what they need in the form of services.

The 1995 Act was a great step forward when it was introduced. For the first time, local authorities formally took into account the carer's ability to care before arranging services for the cared-for person. But, as I said, this Bill goes beyond the 1995 Act in many important respects. In a nutshell, it gives carers enhanced rights to assessment of their own needs; it gives local authorities powers to provide services to carers in their own right; it builds on the freedom and the choice that direct payments give people by allowing carers direct payments for their services, and it ensures that parents, too, can receive direct payments for services to their disabled children.

Many of us, at some time in our life, will care for someone else. We give care willingly to our nearest and dearest because we love them. For some, this caring role will become a larger part of their life, taking up more of their time, because someone close has become ill or disabled. The care provided by carers is not provided on a formal basis by organised, paid professionals. Informal care delivered by family and close friends is provided on an unpaid basis. It is care that draws on feelings of love and duty.

4 Feb 2000 : Column 1337

Caring is often very hard work, and can be emotionally draining. It takes many forms within a range of relationships. Although the circumstances that lead people to become carers may be different, many of the difficulties faced by carers are common. The impact on their lives of caring can be similar: distress at seeing a loved one in pain; emotional loss as the nature of the relationship changes; effects on other relationships; a sense of isolation and loneliness; and feelings of stress and depression.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of informal care and its effects on carers. I have known many carers over the years. In Stalybridge and Hyde alone, there are perhaps just under 9,000 carers--roughly one in eight of my constituents. I have been amazed by the amount of support that they have given to elderly, sick or disabled relatives. I have been struck by the fact that, even though they are providing substantial amounts of care, relatively small changes can improve the quality of their lives. I hope that my Bill will go some way towards doing that.

I do not believe that we can afford to ignore the needs of carers. There is a strong social and moral argument for supporting them, but there is a clear economic imperative as well. There are an estimated 5.7 million carers in the United Kingdom. The support that they provide for their elderly, sick and disabled relatives is estimated to be worth £34 billion a year. If we ensure that carers are able to care and are given the means to care in ways that preserve their health and well-being, we shall avoid the enormous costs that would be associated with any breakdown of caring.

My Bill is concerned with carers at the heavy end. In other words, it caters for those who provide regular and substantial care. An estimated 1.7 million carers provide that level of care, giving 20 hours or more a week in support to a disabled or ill person. Some 855,000 carers provide more than 50 hours of care a week.

Those carers are people like Sheila, who has cared for her daughter for 37 years. I do not want carers such as Sheila, who spoke movingly at the launch of my Bill on Tuesday, to be refused help because the person for whom she cares has refused a community care assessment. Caring for her daughter is enormously stressful, and she spoke on Tuesday about the many times when she had been desperate for support after nights of broken sleep, worry and constant care.

Sheila's daughter has epilepsy and mental health problems. Over the years, she has developed a deep mistrust of professionals. I want people such as Sheila to have their needs met in ways that give them more choice and flexibility. I am pleased that the Government have raised the profile of carers. The most significant development has been the publication of the national strategy for carers, which was launched by the Prime Minister on 10 June 1998. Incidentally, 10 June is my birthday, should anyone wish to make a note of it.

Next week, on Tuesday, we shall celebrate the first anniversary of the strategy's publication. At its launch, the Prime Minister stated that we must take our work to support carers further, and my Bill will do just that. Caring for carers is a vital element in caring for those who

4 Feb 2000 : Column 1338

need care. What carers do should be properly recognised and supported. The Bill will take us one step further towards achieving that.

Those who have studied the Bill will know that it is longer than the average private Member's Bill. It is also complex. However, the right hon. and hon. Members who have read it know that the Bill will provide a legislative framework to bring about simple changes that will make a big difference to carers' lives. The Bill strikes the right balance between providing strong support and recognition for carers and respecting the individual rights of disabled people. I thank everyone who has given me advice and support on the Bill, including officials from the Department of Health and the Carers National Association.

I should like to set out in a little more detail how the Bill attempts to turn the principles that underlie it into practice. Clause 1 provides that a carer who is 16 or over has the right to an assessment from a local authority of his or her ability to provide, and continue to provide, care for the cared-for person.

Next Section

IndexHome Page